Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Review The Enchanted

The Enchanted
Based on the novel by Rene Denfeld
Adapted by Joanna Treves and Connie Treves
Devised by Pharmacy Theatre

Living Death

Death Row has been in the news lately for glib reasons - part of a post election inquest and political rhetoric. However the reality of the death row exists all over the United States where jail inmates are left in limbo, sometimes for years, until the appeals process against their death sentences is exhausted.

This devised performance from Pharmacy Theatre, in an adaptation by Joanna Treves and director Connie Treves,  draws on an acclaimed novel by Oregon author Rene Denfeld, The Enchanted.

The core of the tale is  is the arrival of The Lady (Jade Ogugua), an investigator who works alongside the prisoners' legal defence teams to probe further at the eleventh hour into  the background of those facing the electric chair.

There's nothing to beat a good story and there is a good story here - as the plaudits novel writer Denfeld has received can testify. The investigator trying to save two  lives, that of Arden (Corey Montague-Sholay) and a fellow prisoner York (Hunter Bishop), as time runs out is the stuff of top notch police procedurals and Hollywood blockbusters.

Sholay grounds the whole with a stonking central performance, contorting his stocky muscular body and giving ahis  clear tender delivery of monologues. These are interspersed with the entry of The Lady into the prison and her work as she probes the backstories of the prisoners hoping to find the basis of a successful appeal.

But this is real life and, without having read the novel, we have mixed feelings about such non-naturalistic representations transformed into an exquisite fable and what at times almost becomes a dance piece.

 The collective waves of movement which involve all the cast interrupt the flow of the story and turn this staging into a self-conscious actorly piece. The introduction of small puppets feels out of proportion to the large space and the slope of the audience seats, taking the audience out of the moment.

This felt self-indulgent and lessened the impact of the individual pieces even if Sholay's performance manages to integrate the personal story of a man whose stunted mind finds some kind of freedom in Death Row and the physicality much more successfully.

All of which is a shame because there are some compelling moments. The investigator goes outside the prison interviewing relatives and telling us of their lives. Here the devised piece begins to spark theatrically. This happens sometimes at its most naturalistic and, dare we say it, filmic scenes..

There's the investigator's interview of an inmate's aunt (Georgina Morton) as The Lady starts to piece together the disturbing backgrounds of men condemned as monsters. There's also a curious interlude of a priest (Jack Staddon) and a prostitute which feels like scenes from a particular type of 1970s crime genre movie but still has some nicely honed performances..

Despite the strong performances and without having read the novel, TLT does wonder about the wisdom of turning the material into a lyrical  devised piece which sometimes tips over into the mawkish.

We recalled the direct simplicity of Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad Of Reading Gaol with which The Enchanted shares some of the imagery and which deals much more simply with a similar issue.

Perhaps The Enchanted would work better with projections of real prison buildings and other more solid images of the outside world. As it is the poetic verbalizing sometimes swamps the piece and feels in conflict with the nitty gritty of the investigation. .

The stage, in a design by Jacob Lucy, is bare apart from the a white block suspended from the ceiling with branches splaying out. A long thin white block on the floor of the space is pushed back and forth by the cast revealing silver cans round its edge

On the whole, this feels like an overlong 90 minute piece studded with little gems from a talented cast but there is an imbalance between the lyricism and the more naturalistic sections when the story feels lost. It's an amber light for an interesting adaptation which, nevertheless, sometimes feels a little too constrained by the source material. 

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